Arsenal missing one small piece as Spurs dictate play at the Emirates


Tottenham came to Arsenal, shorn of their best midfielder, missing their best defender, and with their best forward barely returning from injury, and they made a point. Their point was to shut up shop and they did: Arsenal’s only goal in a 1-1 contest was scored by Tottenham.

There will be no special edition DVD of this match because no one will want to watch Arsenal toil for 90 minutes and even the blindest of Tottenham’s supporters will have to admit that Spurs were as negative as a man voting for the worst possible candidate in the history of elections just because he wants to “see it all burn down.” Scorched earth was Tottenham’s approach to the match and sadly, it worked.

Spurs dominated possession but the vast majority of their passes were between their defenders. It was a soul-killing type of game, where Tottenham were simply not interested in playing because they knew that they were the weaker of two strong teams. On the rare occasion they got the ball forward their main threat was Kane and he had just one shot from open play: a header that just glanced wide.

Tottenham did have one genuine footballer in their side and they turned him loose for a grand total of about 7 minutes. Moussa Dembele dribbled six of six times, once even in the Arsenal 18 yard box, after which Koscielny lost his head and fouled him, giving Spurs a penalty and their only real chance of the game. Kane scored and then celebrated like England had just won the World Cup.

Dembele is a similar player to Arsenal’s Cazorla. He’s not a spectacular player like Özil, but you simply can’t win the ball off him. And he dictates play, creating the openings that others use to create the goals. If the tables were turned and Arsenal had either Cazorla or Dembele, I suspect that Spurs would have come unglued.

Arsenal came with a full contingent, missing only midfield maestro Cazorla, but their threat was blunted by the obdurate Spurs defense. Arsenal boasted the most efficient attack in the League coming into the match, 2nd in goals scored and holding the best finishing percent of any team. But Spurs boasted the best defense in the League and as organized as they were the Gunners were only able to create two shots on target, one in the 31st minute and the other in the 89th.

Wenger had an embarrassment of attackers to choose from and as the match wore down he threw them all on: last season’s starting forward, Arsenal’s most prolific attacking midfielder, and the in-form Oxlade-Chamberlain were all called upon, but they only created the one real chance, a tame header from Giroud which was saved easily.

It was an awful match. From an Arsenal perspective, Spurs came to negate the game and they did. In that sense, they bossed Arsenal. They dictated the type of game that were were going to watch and but for the lucky own goal, Arsenal could very easily have lost this match.

And from my perspective, Arsenal have work to do. They need to either get Cazorla back healthy or find another player from within the ranks who can carry the massive load he carries for us. Or if they can’t do that, find yet another way to play.

On a positive note, Xhaka was excellent yesterday and kept his temper completely in check. I suspect he will have further transgressions but it was good to see an all around positive footballing exhibition from him.



  1. Heheh you are a bitter bitter man/woman! Biased as can be. Hardly negative football considering both teams easily had equally glaring opportunities to score. You are bitter because your attack was failing to get the better of a tough spurs defence.

    This is all not even considering that spurs have had half their first team out for most of the season.

    How interesting.

    1. As we can see even a team of Middleboroughs resources can defend for their lives over 90 mi Ute’s and get a result. We see it constantly in the premier league, weaker teams just shutting up shop and hoping not to concede.

      1. R u shitting me?
        Arsenal 2 shots on target.
        Tottenham 3 shots on target.
        Arsenal had 46% of the ball so that left spurs with 54%.
        Spurs even scored for arsenal as they were incapable of doing it themselves.

        Do you even understand what you are watching?

    2. Spurs should have bought some players this summer. Then they wouldn’t have an injury crisis..

  2. I pointed this out yesterday but I don’t consider our goal to be “unlucky.” Özil’s delivery was inch perfect, placing that ball into an area in which the more difficult header was to NOT score. That Wimmer, while desperately trying to direct that ball anywhere but towards goal, could only score has to say something about the quality of the ball. Had he managed to direct that ball away from goal most would be appreciative of what a fantastic defensive header that was.

    And then, having gotten the goal by hook, crook, or luck we managed to shoot ourselves in the foot by gifting them a way back into the game. Some have argued that it was a soft penalty (it wasn’t) and that Koz was foolish in hanging a leg out (he was). But our midfield defending has the most to answer for, in my opinion, And Wenger’s.

    “I’m disappointed with the way we let, first of all, Dembele run through. That’s not acceptable.”

    Despite their negative approach, we had the lead and it didn’t take a fantastic bit of play from them to draw level. Just terrible defending.

  3. Spurs didn’t strike me as negative, they struck me as being pragmatic given their injuries and personnel health/fitness. To that end I give them credit.

    We will need to resolve the 3 CB formation, it looks like we struggle against it. I am really enjoying this new Premier League season with the plethora of great managers and their willingness to adopt a variety of tactics game to game. Pocchetino said he went to three at the back after watching our Chelsea game. Watford had three at the back and got ripped to shreds by Liverpool. i.e. each game is a one-off and managers have to customize their set ups based on the opponents. This is one of my theories on why Man U are struggling – Mourinho has been found out tactically and struggles to see an alternative approach from his 4-2-3-1. Look what a more flexible Conte is doing with the same roster.

    1. Formations aren’t something that we should get too bogged down in because they are more guidelines than anything. But in theory, teams should play a 442 to counter the 352. In more practical language, the attacking team needs to exploit the lack of defensive cover in wide spaces afforded by a 352. This is typically accomplished with speedy wingers crossing the ball in to a target man in the middle. Late-running midfielders can also provide opportunities for drag-backs, if the winger can get to the end line.

    2. 3 man (aka 5 man) back lines are definitely not what we’re struggling against, at least not per se. We’ve actually shown we know how to punish teams playing with 3 CB’s in the recent past: we tore Watford apart earlier this season, and we were cruising against West Ham last spring until a combination of our defensive mistakes and Andy Carroll being a beast in the air meant we let them level at 2-2 right before halftime, but Bilic realized the error of his formation and changed it at halftime and they were much more competitive in the second half as a result. Going back a bit more, I seem to recall Rodgers’s Liverpool coming to the Emirates in spring 2015 with a back three and being down 3-0 at halftime. In each of these cases our forward players did exactly what Tim mentions, exploiting space down the flanks between centreback and wing-back, and we had a field day offensively in each case because of that.
      Our problem, rather is in playing against small teams who park the bus (e.g. Boro) or who press, harry, tactically foul, and are generally really well organized (e.g. Spurs; Liverpool’s backline is much worse, but we’ve also struggled against Rodgers/Klopp teams for several years when they use their press well). Spurs did a bit of both on Sunday: they were their usual fouly selves, but also got lots of numbers behind the ball in the second half when they knew they could earn a point and were happy to do so. No doubt the back 5 helped them do that, but, as our performance near the end of the first half showed, if our passing, movement, and finishing had been more precise earlier in the game (and we hadn’t given up a very soft goal) we could just as easily have punished them for playing that formation.

      Another thing to note is that the 3-4-3 played by Spurs on Sunday and Chelsea recently (and Rodgers’s Liverpool a couple of times, if memory serves) is a different beast than the classic 3-5-2 last popular in the 90’s, as it uses one (mobile) centre forward (like most formations these days) instead of a front two, and then basically has two number 10’s/wide attackers who have freedom to roam and get in between the lines, and these two players (Sun and Eriksen) certainly caused us trouble in the first 25 minutes of Sunday’s game, as we didn’t know who should pick them up (they create a four-man central midfield box, not unlike the the very old school W-M, and that’s obviously too many players for our two man central midfield to deal with, especially since Ozil rarely tracks back, and is basically playing as a Bergkamp style 90’s era second forward “in the hole” these days), but once we sorted this out, we were in the ascendancy before halftime.

  4. Didn’t see the game in full but I’m always leary of arguments that we fell short due to one key absence. It’s perilously close to the “Arsenal is one player away” mantra which has always been riddled with falsehood. The truth of it, it seems, is that Spurs did what they do best this season: not concede goals. I don’t think the differential gain of Cazorla vs. Xhaka would’ve tipped the tide of this match, especially seeing how well Xhaka played.

    The interesting tactical wrinkle of this match was how Spurs initially used a back 3 to match Arsenal’s front 3 and lined up man for man throughout the rest of the pitch. It was meant to catch us cold by making players miss who they were supposed to be marking, and it almost lead to an early goal from them. After we adjusted, we had our strongest spell of the game, eventually culminating in the own goal. By way of response, they went back into their shells and as you rightly say, scorched the earth with tactical fouling when their impressive industry couldn’t win the ball. The sad part was not their play without the ball, it was that they showed such little desire and invention to get forward once they did have the ball. That’s what led to this being ultimately such a dire contest.

    As for moving forward, this was the best defense in the premier league so the degree of difficulty is not about to increase, even with man united and PSG on the horizon. Even in this contest, we had the opportunities to score. I know it doesn’t show up when a player *just* misses a cross, or when someone chooses the wrong option when well positioned, or when a shot from a good spot is mishit but those things affect matches like this. From a defensive perspective, I learned from By The Numbers that we gave away no big chances besides a somewhat kind penalty. All in all, a somewhat disappointing NLD, and one they’ll be happier with than us, but by no means a tragedy.

    1. By the way: is there a greater cancer to football today than tactical fouling? I personally think it’s the most cynical and anti-football tactic popular in the game, and all the more so because it’s so effective, rarely gets highlighted and criticized in the media, and the punishment for it (at least when it’s part of a team wide tactic, rather than blatant one-off fouls like Xhaka’s against Swansea) very, very rarely is commensurate with the crime.
      It’s made me hate Spurs at a whole new level these days. There’s no reason to sugarcoat it: Pochettino’s Spurs is a dirty, dirty team.

  5. It’s a great source of amusement to me that when a team is called out for playing conservatively, no matter how much I qualify it with an opening paragraph about how they are missing players or an ending paragraph giving them credit for dictating play, that fans react with an almost visceral anger.

    I personally feel that Tottenham “won” the game because they were so effective at smothering the Arsenal attack and in the return fixture, Arsenal could be in real trouble unless they can find a way to unlock teams like Spurs, West Brom, Man U, etc.

  6. We have seen some negative football in our time as Arsenal fans but I think given the circumstances (some key injuries and Kane just coming back), I think they played cautiously and got what they came for.

    We worked hard but seemed to lack belief even though we created enough situations where we could have shot better or played a better final ball. Just very disheartening that we didn’t show more confidence in what was a very, very important game for us to get all 3 points. If we want to be champions, we need to show up for these type of home games. Last season we had a great game against Utd at home and never really surpassed that height the rest of the season in terms of performance in the league. This season, we had a great game against Chelsea. I hope we don’t fall into this trap where we have one great home game every season vs. a top level team.

    In terms of personnel, I think we need to make some changes. Think Iwobi could do with a break. His performance has been falling for some time now. I wonder if Ramsey can play in his position. I think he can. He will end up coming to the center more often than not anyway. Ox’s 20 minute cameo was just scary. It’s a good thing he has scored a few goals, otherwise fans would be on his case.

    Happy to see Xhaka put in a MOTM performance yesterday. He played a very tidy game, got stuck in when he needed to and kept his cool. Also noticed how him and Ozil immediately came to Theo’s side after that minor skirmish with Vertonghen. He is exactly the type of mid fielder fans have been clamoring for.

  7. I felt somehow this match was like a blessing in disguise. Both the fans and the some of the players seems to feel overconfident. Especially the fans who think that Leverkusen won against Tottenham due to their players entirely. It’s not, Leverkusen played a great pressing game and forced mistakes toward the Tottenham players. Rather than Cazorla, we should have perfected our team pressing. That to me is much more reliable than praying for that one of a kind player to bail us out.

  8. 1. I love it when other teams’ sad sack fans come on here to talk smack. They inevitably let slip the veil and reveal their third form logic and trogolyte nature. I always end up geeling better after a disappointing game.

    2. I haven’t rewatched the game yet but for the beginning of the first half I thought Tottenham had the better of us. Even when we started getting into good positions and creating chances it seemed like we were doing it on the counter rather than as aconsequence of dominating the ball. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

    3. I agree that Santi is special, but I don’t understand why we are so dependent on him. We’re full of excellent to world class players, we should be able to adapt.

    4. Beating ManU is now doubly important. COYG

  9. Tim, not sure you’ll end up seeing this comment, but isn’t the 3-5-2 inherently superior and made to counter a 4-4-2?

    Especially when it’s more a 5-4-1 while defending?

    In such a situation wouldn’t it be better to play a 4-5-1 with Sanchez at the top – who is also like a false 9 at times – so that he they’ll have 3 CBs marking just one player, especially when he moves to away from goal and they end up following him, and as they are dragged out of position, it’ll give the wide players a chance to run in behind and have chances to score.

    In fact, even in the current approach, didn’t Iwobi have a great chance which should’ve won us the game? Or THAT Walcott strike which was direly unlucky to not go in?

    All in all, I think it wasn’t only Cazorla but a lack of organization and proper passing which was our bane, than any formation or anything Spurs did. The only thing they were good at was rotational fouling. Talentless fuckers.

  10. What Dr Gooner said. Let’s give Tottenham some credit. Their back line and midfield played well, and they kept possession very effectively, especially in the 2nd half, which they mostly controlled. As the game went on Eriksen and Rose grew more influential at the attacking end. It’s not by accident that they are the only unbeaten team in the league. They are very hard to beat. A solid midfield of Dembele and Wanyama, two very good attacking wingbacks, a good, versatile player in Dier. Kane and Alli are probably their best two attacking players. One was coming back from injury, and one didn’t play.

    Pound for pound, man for man, we are a better team, and had been in good form, but tactically, they stifled us. And I don’t think it’s right to call it negative football. There was period of the second half where they were winning every 50/50 ball, and Eriksen was dictating the attacking lay very effectively. Our best players Sanchez and Ozil also didn’t play that well, although Sanchez’s pass to put in Iwobi was gorgeous, and Iwobi should have scored.

    This is a par result.

  11. Hopefuly Real Madrid or someone else will come for Pochetino at the end of this season. I think he is Spurs main asset, basically i dont remember them having a manager as good as he is. In spite all the tactical fouling and other shady tactics we just have to admit thet the game on sunday unfolded the way he wanted, bar the own goal.

  12. first, i’m on record declaring myself a big dembele fan. i became a fan of his during the ’08 olympics as i felt he had a better tournament performance than the likes of messi and aguero. arsenal could have signed him when fulham wanted to take ramsey on loan but didn’t. spurs swooped and it still hurts my heart that he’s playing for the wrong north london side.

    many feel dembele should have been dealt with before getting into the penalty area on sunday but it’s not that simple. to put it plainly, when some players have the ball at their feet, they simply can’t be f*cked with. dembele is one of those players. he and cazorla don’t get much fan fare because they don’t score goals like neymar and messi. however, i’m sure most tottenham fans view dembele the same way arsenal fans view cazorla; we watch them every week and know full well how special they are.

    the so-called 3-4-3 totts played on sunday was more of a 5-4-1. notice who the wide midfielders were for tottenham: rose and walker (fullbacks). make no mistake, it was a defensive formation. had the wide players been lamela and sissoko, then it would have been a legit 3-4-3. considering their injuries and that they were away from home, it was an intelligent strategic approach to take against one of the top teams in the league.

    maybe it’s me but it seems as if iwobi is playing too deep. it could be that he’s been hearing criticism of how teams often attack the arsenal left. maybe it was his education. maybe it was direction he was given by the manager. whatever it is, he needs to find the right balance. while it’s easy to say that it will come in time, that time needs to happens sooner rather than later or he needs to be dropped until he can figure it out. having him further forward at opportune times would have helped out a ton in breaking down tottenham’s defense.

    i think xhaka was good but not quite excellent. he certainly didn’t have a bad game but excellent is too high a rating. likewise, ramsey came off the bench and tried to lift the game with his mobility but couldn’t quite give arsenal the spark that he wanted to. ramsey always does this. when coming back from injury, he’ll play well from the bench. then he gets a couple of starts and begins playing dumb soccer again. maybe arsenal should just keep him as a super-sub. we’ll see.

  13. Huge long comment didn’t show up. Wtf?

    Was it because I called Spurs ‘F**ckers’?

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